BOOK REVIEW: Reign, by Nate Crowley

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  • Book Two of The Twice-Dead King
  • Focuses on the Necrons
  • Published by Black Library in 2022
  • Grimdark SF
  • 306 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

Oltyx has survived his trials and now stands at the head of his dynasty. But it is a dynasty on the run, and the crusading forces of the Imperium are closing in on what little he has left. Will Oltyx lead his people to salvation, or to annihilation . . ?

Much like Urdesh (which I reviewed here only a few days ago), The Twice-Dead King is not so much a duology as a single book split into two parts. There’s a part of me that wishes Black Library were willing to put out more sizable novels, collecting these as a single volume rather than splitting the release. I suspect we’ll one day get an omnibus, perhaps also including Crowley’s novella Severed, or even Robert Rath’s The Infinite and the Divine to create a full necron collection. But for now we have the story in two rather short parts. And I can’t say I’m too upset about that, because I don’t know how much I’d have enjoyed sitting through twice as many pages of this in a single book.

Reign is not a bad book, don’t get me wrong. But for all of its three hundred pages, it’s pretty hard going. It’s got that same sense of gothic tragedy as the first book (Ruin), with a nice little dash of comedy sprinkled in here and there. It keeps the narrative spicy without ever betraying the depression that sits at Reign‘s core. Because this is a bleak, bleak book. A story about losing everything you have, including yourself, and maybe not coming out the other side. Tonally, it is spot on. The necrons have been slowly decaying for millions of years. It makes sense that a book a bout them should be sad, maybe unbearable so. If the rest of the grim dark future is intent on going out in a bang, then the necrons are wasting away with barely a whimper. Crowley understands this, and he has a better handle on the necrons than just about anyone.

What I’m not sure about, is whether it’s the necrons or the writing that stops me getting fully into this book. Since all three of Crowley’s works that I’ve encountered have been necron-centric, it’s hard to judge his writing independently. What I will say is that he brings both darkness and humour in a way that feels wholly natural, and his prose is uniquely styled without calling attention away from the story being told. So perhaps it is the necrons that are the problem. Crowley has done such a good job of realising a nonhuman perspective that the book feels very alien. As it should, being about the xenos. But as a consequence of this, there is very little for me to latch onto as a reader. I’m constantly assailed by new terminology and necron jargon. It’s an entirely new civilisation, and even a new perspective, built from the ground up. It’s an incredible feat, but it’s tough-going at times. Having said that, if you’re more familiar with the terminology than I am, this won’t be anywhere near as much of a problem for you. I come at Warhammer 40,000 purely from the Black Library side of things. If you’re a gamer and/or reader of Codexes, you’re much better positioned than I to make sense of this book.

For all the difficulty I had with Reign, it’s got a good story, and an even better tone. Heavy going it may be, but it does deal with heavy topics, tackling them with an enthusiasm and wit seldom seen in the grim darkness of the far future.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks
Severed, by Nate Crowley
The Infinite and the Divine, by Robert Rath

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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